Living the Passion


I am so incredibly lucky to have a wonderful life at age 77. Of course, it’s not perfect because no life is, but I am so abundantly blessed in my elderhood. Here I am, a want-to-be writer who is finally just that! It took me long enough! What’s that “they” say? “It’s never too late?” Thank goodness!  This writing is my latest passion in a lifetime of passions. I find it amazing!


Writers know that an idea, a phrase, a word, a scene can pop into our minds without even asking for it. And nearly always, it demands attention. Which means it expects to be put into words. So it was recently when my Muse (whom I have not yet named) whispered these strange words:


“I thought if I could no longer sing, I would die.”


Well, that seemed a bit extreme, even for me (the one widely known for being the dramatic one in the family). Singing has been my lifelong passion, and passions often run ahead of logic. They’re gut things. Of course I would not literally die. Yet, what would happen when something which has been so elemental to who I am finally came to an end? Maybe I would not literally die, but it just could feel that way.


Singing has not been just a passion with me. I have been very good at it. It has been part and parcel of my identity. I was blessed with a beautiful solo mezzo-soprano voice that I had the joy of using in concerts and recitals, sacred and community venues, whether it was on a large stage or singing the Star Spangled Banner on a Little League baseball field. It was big enough to sing over an orchestra but not big enough to hit the Big Time. It filled body, mind and spirit nonetheless, every time.


Ah, yes. The power of living out our passion is palpable.


Singing great music filled me up. The feel of it is physical, and the crazy ride of the surging, feel-good hormones is as powerful as any drug. Besides the very joy of singing with ease and passion, my ego reveled in it. Voraciously. Every prolonged applause and standing “O” for decades was verification that I was a worthy human being. My passion for singing was an immense part of my ego, my self-esteem, my self-worth. No wonder I thought I could die without it.


When I was 72, I preached my first sermon in a new church and ended it by singing “What I Did for Love.” Surprise! The enthusiastic response of the congregation stunned me. They still talk about it five years later. My voice was still in good shape. I didn’t have to die yet.


But I had changed.


One thing was different that day. My ego was no longer on the stage. My love for these people was front and center. It was going to be a harbinger of how I would be able to leave one passion behind and eventually take up another.


The end came this fall. By this time, I was singing in our church choir. No more solos. But at 77, my singing voice was so undependable that I had to retire. Rats! And I didn’t die after all. Not even figuratively! I turned in my music and walked away with no regrets. Only profound gratitude for a lifetime of joy.


This passion had spent itself without my even trying! But thankfully, passion itself was far from done with me. And here is why.


Passion keeps us alive and amazed. Passion is a driving force that walks us into creativity and curiosity and wonderment and purpose. Passion is the glue of commitment, the joy of achievement. It can be a high, it can be unimaginably deep. We all need it. Sometimes we can’t find it. And most of us have to find it. Somewhere. It is where meaning appears and shows us the future we are meant to find. And when one passion ends, there can be yet another that is just as sweet. It is still grace.


Following our passion can be the hardest thing we ever do because it always involves a cost. Some costs are greater than others, and any of them can about break your heart. But not following our passion has costs as well, and the greatest cost is losing big chunks of who we are and who we were meant to be. And that always breaks the heart.


“To be yourself, you have to learn how to become who you were dreamed to be…To be born is to be chosen. There is something special that each of us has to do in the world. If someone else could do it, they would be here and not us.” – John O’Donohue


So where have your passions led you? What “something special” has marked your years so far? Perhaps there has been one overriding passion that has been the story of your life from the beginning.


Have those passions been large or small? Have they been powerful enough to engage your heart and soul and mind, in spite of yourself sometimes? Have you ever had to step out in faith because you couldn’t walk away from one yet?


I have friends who have a passion for quilting and the beauty of their work is stunning for those of us who need beauty…and the warmth of a quilt.


I have friends who have such a passion for little children that their daycare is filled with imagination and creativity and joy…and the laughter that can only come from them.


I have friends who have such a passion for frail elders that they go the extra mile to drive them, visit them, invite them, play with them…making time because they know time is everything sometimes.


I have friends who have such passion for life that they have a heart that includes everyone, even the outcasts…especially the outcasts.


I have friends who have such monumental disabilities that I could not imagine having to rise above their limitations. They not only live with them, they do it with a zest and joy that humbles me.


My friends are grace. So are yours. So are you.


When passion matches who we are, what gifts we have, what obstacles we can overcome, we find ourselves, too, living with grace.


It’s all a part of how I got here. And I’m very okay with that!



An Old Face of Love

old woman hands
She had the face of a crone and the heart of a saint. She was the first woman to capture my imagination as a young child learning about grace. I forgot about her for decades, until I came across a black and white photograph of her perhaps twenty years ago. My heart was so sad when I lost it, but my mind still bears its imprint vividly. And that same heart never lost touch with the spirit of the quiet presence of love who met my innocence with her affection.


Miss Irene Dornblaser has come to mind recently in this curious and amazing place to which I’ve come: elderhood. I simply needed to write some more about these elder years, and I was ready to take a look back at the most important people who have led me to who I am now. It was her face that showed up first. I knew this was where I should begin.


Looking back is our journey to who we are now. It’s the way we find regret and repentance; forgiveness and acceptance. We travel there, as often as necessary, to learn: to discover the reality of who we were and to seek the lodestars who we met along the way who showed us the direction toward the deepest love that we would need.


I was maybe 8 years old when I first met her. An age when the scripts of life are being written fast and furiously, when curiosity and fascination are scooping up great heaps of life wherever they happen. It was the age of innocence and curiosity and expectation and I was in love with life.


Two years ago, I wrote a brief, dense little piece about Miss Irene Dornblaser – because she needed to be remembered, and I needed to honor her place in our third-grade lives.


“Miss Dornblaser was the Christian missionary who

came to our grade school to tell us about Jesus. She

came so long ago yet she is buried deep in the love

that I knew in my childhood. Love is what she showed

us with her homely but glowing face. She was ancient

and mysterious, having lived in China all those years

before coming home. So when she had us fold our

arms on our desks and put our heads down on them,

we were fed the quiet beauty of prayer by a woman of

God, unafraid and unapologetic and full of light.”


In the late 1940’s, Miss Dornblaser would have been known as a spinster. She was not a beauty. Tall and exceedingly thin, she seemed to float on her calm demeanor. Her hair was set in a familiar-for-the-time older woman’s bun, neatly held together at the nape of her neck. Marcelled waves on the sides of her hair were her only brief nod to fanciness.


She wore long-sleeved, crepe dresses that went down to mid-calf and neatly buttoned at the neck. Her shoes were “old-lady” shoes – black, with a thick heel, tied carefully at the ankle. She carried a modestly decorated linen handkerchief in her gnarled, long fingers which were never awkwardly used and which rested so quietly, elegantly placed in her lap.


Her face was long and very thin, her mouth small and wrinkled like her skin. Her smile seemed to stretch from front to back, rather than from side to side, and it arrived easily and often. Her wire-rimmed glasses, a paean to the modesty befitting a missionary, sat lightly on her aquiline nose. Her eyes had a warmth to them that welcomed her small charges in.


We sat correctly, quietly as she spoke. Her words held us, and perhaps it was also her low and soothing voice that captured our hearts and hopes. She was Love standing before our 30 desks, neatly arranged in rows of 6. She was the confirmation of what my parents had been teaching me by their example. How rich was my life!


Miss Dornblaser’s love embraced us all with a kind of perfection that would too soon fade but which would remain as the nearest thing to it that we would have going forward. Her beauty was the radiance that filled her and reached out to us. We didn’t think of her as old or ugly. She was who we could become.


We all know that true beauty isn’t just skin deep, right? But oh, that skin beauty thing is alluring! I’m going to admit it: even at 77, when I look into that mirror, I still have to do just a bit of reinterpreting about what I see there. Maybe we all do. I think we all do.


If we’re brave and honest, if we stick with it, if we don’t avoid our own gaze, we can see the new beauty that has quietly been making its way to the surface. The new beauty that has arrived so slowly that often we didn’t really notice it.


Each artist’s wrinkle has been carved there, threadlike or deep, to announce that we have been alive and kicking and bravely living our own stories, page by page, chapter by chapter. And the writing has been worth the effort.


Beauty can be only skin deep sometimes. In the new elderhood that I’m relishing, my eyes see my crone face as beautiful. Beautiful with the long history of my life, with all its ups and downs. Beautiful with the weight of the mistakes which I have laid aside with forgiveness. Beautiful with the joy that lights it up when I remember just how miraculously I have survived my losses and found ways to thrive. Beautiful with the smiles that beamed and the laughter that exploded with happy times. Beautiful with the calm spirit that has learned to cherish quiet and deepness and the power of humility.


Looking back. Sifting through the faces that rise to the surface. When we spend that time with a heart that seeks the love and grace and humor and depth that life has brought us, we can discover a wonder that just has to say, “Wow! Just…wow!!”


We all have a Miss Dornblaser. Who was yours? And what gift did you find there that showed the direction of love for you? The truth about beauty? Looking back is so worth the effort!


So at age 77, I still cherish the memory of Miss Irene Dornblaser. I think that she taught me, long ago, how to do my older years more gracefully and gratefully. She was a uniquely beautiful part of how I got here. And I’m very okay with that.



The Broken Road

I love my elder life these days. I still relish its surprises and its twists and turns. I love that my brain keeps picking up on things that I missed while I was doing other things. You know? Like music that shows up out of the blue. Music that most “with it” people have loved and cheered for years (and years). Can you believe that this ol’ gal had never heard of Rascal Flatts until this fall? There are reasons…


My musical world has been dominated by classical and sacred music from the beginning. From “Jesus Loves Me” at age 3, which I picked out on the piano (with harmony, so the story goes…) to years as a mezzo-soprano soloist in concert, my music was dominated by the likes of Bach and Beethoven and Brahms. I had season tickets to the symphony when I was 9. I was entranced. I got a graduate degree in vocal performance at 36. I was soaked in opera.


True, I was introduced to popular music when I was 13 and Bill Haley and the Comets came roaring onto the teen scene with “Rock Around the Clock.” It was the beginning of rock and roll. Oh, baby, was it! And through my high school years, I listened avidly to “our” teeny bopper music on the radio and never missed “Your Hit Parade” every Saturday night (yeh, not a heavy dater, either) on black and white t.v. But for my 16th birthday I was screaming with delight over my own copy of – wait for it – Handel’s “Messiah.” Yes, I was a geek well before the term ever appeared.


So when “Bless the Broken Road” came out in 1994, and Rascal Flatts made it famous, I was far, far from the stations that aired it and gave it wings for millions who heard it and loved it and used it at their weddings and funerals.


It’s 2018 now, and it was only recently that I perked up my ears as I happened upon the words, “This much I know is true – God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.” The broken road. It’s familiar. I immediately went online to listen to it. I was entranced. I went further, to find out what all the words were. I was entranced some more. And I got to know Rascal Flatts.


I knew what “Bless the Broken Road” would be about by its title. I knew the broken road. I’d walked it more than once. We all have. It’s real. And sometimes it’s long – very long.


The broken road isn’t just about finding your true love (although it was that for me, too, which was pure grace). It’s about every broken road and every slog along its rough terrain that leads us to places where we are meant to arrive. And we all come upon them, bidden or unbidden.


The broken road has its protruding rocks and muddy places to navigate. It can stretch for miles and years when we can barely see the sun for all the overgrowth. It has dead ends and steep hills to climb and we may well doubt that we can survive it. We can carry our dreams with us, tightly held in a knapsack or just a pocket. But the dreams won’t be coming true there. The road must be navigated, whether we feel courageous or not.


What I have found in looking back at my own broken roads, is that I was less courageous than I thought I was, and far more courageous than I knew.


It’s courageous to stand up, to put one foot in front of the other and take one more step when we think there is no more strength left. When we can’t see the end.


Something, some very small light, is still burning inside and urging that the road is not endless. It is still there and can be trod even with great uncertainty and trepidation. We know, don’t we? We’ve done it, often time and time again. One foot in front of the other.


Then just when we think we won’t make it, that we’re stuck here and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, no end to the brokenness, someone or something arrives that becomes the very blessing we desperately needed all along. And the arrival is just in time.


We find ourselves embracing the compassion or the wisdom or the love or the helping hand, the healing heart, the laughter of hope.


The broken roads that led to the true loves, the true purposes of who we are, that showed us the true meanings of our lives have been our teachers, our guides, our paths of discovery and insight.


Our own broken roads have been opportunity just when we thought we’d seen all we needed to see. They have been invitation just at the moment that we were ready to give up. They have been challenge when we thought we’d learned all we needed to know. They have been correction when we had it wrong. They have been the darkness until we could bear the light.


I have had to give up my husband to death; my calling to retirement; my home to smaller digs; my youth to wrinkles and stiffer joints. I am not unusual for a woman of 77. Each of those broken roads has been as full of shards and achings and lonely times as I’ve expected.


And each has had people of grace, moments of enlightenment, opportunities that came seemingly out of nowhere. Many arrived at just the moment that I thought there was no end.  Each built on the other until I was whole again.


And each has blessed me with the knowledge that courage and hanging in there, one-stepping through so many days, has led me to this new and amazing resilience. A resilience that has eyes wide open, a heart full of gratitude, a mind alert and open to wonder and a spirit more connected to the world than it has ever been. And it’s a resilience that has given me the words to express the wonder of it all to all my sisters and brothers who are also one-stepping through this elderhood, too.


Ram Dass’ words are true: “We’re all just walking each other home.” It’s how I got here. And I’m very okay with that.